Always such a pleasure to be able to befriend insanely talented people all over Asia who are involved in punk rock and hardcore. Songyi is one of those individuals who I’ve been following from afar through tracks I’ve heard of her ska-punk band Talkbats. Her vocal skills are straight FIRE and coupled with her killer stage presence, she’s like the perfect fit for stages anywhere on the planet. Recently, she even put her clean vocals down for a bit and ripped into her throat-shredding capabilities in her brand new power violence band Polluter.
Over the course of a few days, Songyi and I went back and forth in a series of questions to help get to know her path into punk rock a little better.
Thank you Songyi for your time!
Hi Songyi! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview! Congrats on the awesome fullset live video for Talkbats recently released on South Korea Rock channel! Can you tell us how you got into punk rock in Korea!
Hi! Thank you for interviewing me!! And thank you for the live video too!
It all started back in 2011 when I went to my first punk show with a good friend. My actual first impression of punk rock was “Woah – the instrument sounds so loud!” hahaha…And after that first show punk rock really didn’t leave much of an impression on me, to be honest. But the weird thing is, even after that more negative experience I kept finding myself drawn to attending punks shows WEEKLY in Seoul. And within a few months of shows every week, I actually moved to Seoul under the pretext of studying but I was really there just to keep going to punk shows as often as possible. Over the course of this time, I got to know a lot of people in the scene and gradually they kept sharing with me a whole bunch of bands and that’s how found myself involved.
Hahaha that’s awesome! What was that first show you went to? Who was playing and why did you and your friend find about the show?
I think it was a band called the Swindlers‘ album release show and they played with Rux. At that time I was studying photography, that’s why I was in Seoul taking photos. A friend already knew there was a punk show going on so I went with her. I actually have no idea what she’s up to these days.
Oh cool! So it was a show where you got to see some female punk rockers on stage too (Rux)! What kind of music were you listening to at the time?
Oh, when I saw Rux for the first time they didn’t have females members. At that time I was so into Blink 182 and the Korean band Skasucks.
Skasucks is awesome! And before that punk show had you already started to go watch “regular” shows?
Nope! Actually, before I got into the punk scene, my only hobby was to relax at home. Ohhhhhh and I was really into K-pop music(TVXQ) when I was in middle school.
So if your first experience of watching a show is a punk show but you were only listening to K-Pop at the time, I can see why you thought it was loud hahahaha…
That was my first time attending any type of show I think. I remember that each time the drummer hit the snare my eyelids would twitch! Hahahaha…
After that experience what made you want to go back to more shows later?
I fell in love with the energetic atmosphere of the punk scene.
I remember that each time the drummer hit the snare my eyelids would twitch! Hahahaha…
Can you think back to what made you change your feelings about punk rock? That’s quite a big change! hahahaha…
I know! I was a very introverted person, and I think I envied people having fun and being so active together. And that energy became the trigger for me to change my personality and slowly become more extroverted.
That’s amazing! And when you found yourself transitioning into a more extrovert who is enjoying punk rock – did you start digging into the culture of punk rock deeper?
Not really… I’m not good at studying haha…What I meant earlier was that as I became more extroverted it was with my feelings, I stopped keeping things all bottled up inside. I like punk rock but it’s not just about the music. I was able to get deeper into this scene because of the people in the punk scene more so than the culture and history of punk.
For sure – punk and hardcore to me is way more than just the music – the music is just what attracts you to it but then once you arrive it’s a whole different world. Something completely separate from the mainstream. What are some things you love about punk rock?
Yea!! I couldn’t agree with you more!
The first thing I can say is the people – especially my friends. I feel really lucky to have a life in which I can share my taste, thoughts, etc with the ones I love the most.
The second thing is the unique atmosphere of a punk rock show. Loud instruments, people screaming along to the music, wild dancing, no matter how stressed I am during the week, at a punk show I can forget all of it.
And the third thing is that especially after I started Polluter, I can express what’s inside of me without hesitation.
These three seem to be the biggest reasons I love punk rock.
For sure – for me it’s also the DIY culture of punk rock. The idea that you can do anything yourself and you don’t have to wait for someone or a label etc. So what inspired you to start Talkbats?
I was drinking with my friends, and the band’s former keytarist Nagi said she was about to start a band and wanted me to play the saxophone. I thought it could be a lot of fun so I went along with her. While we were messing around, we couldn’t find a vocalist so our bassist suggested that maybe I try singing. That’s basically how began singing and how the band was formed.
So before being asked to join Talkbats had you already been playing music? What instrument and what kind of music?
Nope! Talkbats was the first band that I played in. Oh wait, actually I played keyboard for one or two shows with another skapunk band (I’m not good at playing the keyboard), but the band doesn’t exist anymore
That’s interesting that all your first bands were ska-punk bands! How’d you get into that type of punk in particular?
The bright and happy mood of the ska genre really got me. At that time when I began listening to ska music, I always found joy and excitement in the music, whether you were on the subway going to work, on the bus, on your way back home from work, etc. And also all of my close friends loved ska music. We always listened to Rancid, Operation Ivy, The Specials etc…while drinking or hanging out.
And most recently you started a completely DIFFERENT type of band screaming in powerviolence band Polluter! How did that band come together?
Yea…totally different! Aaron, Polluter’s drummer, told me one day that he started a new band and recorded a song. I heard it and thought it was great! They didn’t have a vocalist yet so I asked Aaron that even though I’ve never done any screaming before EVER in my life, I wanted to join them. He gladly said “Let’s try it together!” After our very first practice, I was so so so so so so so so so so super nervous so I got there an hour earlier and drank a LOT of Soju.
Hahahaha!!!!! And so what has your process been like to learn how to scream for that band? Because in Talkbats you have a beautiful singing voice.
Thank you! I haven’t really been learning how to scream. In the beginning, it was really awkward for me to scream like that cause I had never heard my own screaming voice before. Hahahaha…but over time and tons of practice sessions with the band, I was able to figure out the right voice/tone for the band.
In terms of lyrics for both bands – what are some of the themes you’re singing about. I remember interviewing Billy Carter and they sing a lot about women’s rights issues.
Almost every song in Talkbats is about friendship. Love, fond memories, happiness, friendship always seem to be the theme of TalkBats music.
On the other hand, Polluter usually sings about the injustices I’ve experienced in my life and ongoing events that make us angry.
Can you talk more about those lyrics with Polluter – maybe more about specific things you’ve experienced growing up in Korea?
I certainly have not been a very “easy child” since I was a little kid. So my mother would always say “Couldn’t you act normal like other children?”, “Why do you have to act so weird?” There’s a lyric in one of our songs “Don’t compare me to other kids I am fucking me” that song is for all the Korean kids who have helicopter parents who keep pulling their children’s strings.
There’s another one where I sing “Why do you care what I look like, what I wear, or who I sleep with?” which is basically saying leave me the fuck alone cause my life isn’t your business. There are of course songs about anger towards my boss, frustrations, covid lockdowns, anxieties, etc.
Usually, when I’m writing lyrics, I just write whatever comes to mind on my phone and I turn those writings into lyrics with Aaron.
Amazing – I’m Pakistani so I fully understand the demands of very strong and traditional Asian parents. I don’t have a very good relationship to this day. My dad even said a couple of years ago “you’re a dad now – you really should stop playing music now”. The fuck.
I totally get that! Same thing happens here! My mother also doesn’t like that I’m playing music, so I don’t tell her about anything going in my life these days.
It’s crazy…I was 40 when my dad told me that. I was like what? I’m 40 now fool. Hahahaha…So what does your mom think about you playing in these two bands?
She couldn’t even stand when my ringtone was Blink-182 music. She said it’s too loud! Hahaha She just knows that I’m in a band but she doesn’t know what kind of music I play.
Can I also ask about being a woman in the Korean punk scene? I think I’ve seen TONS of women involved in punk rock in Korea – more than even in Japan – so I’m just wondering what are your thoughts about the number of women involved, are there enough, should there be more, is there any sexism that still exists, etc
When I got into the punk scene, I was often told that most women don’t stay long in this scene. Even I’ve experienced people just thinking I’m some male band member’s girlfriend. People also said that I’ll be gone soon too. But a long time’s passed and I’ve been playing bands for so much time now that I actually haven’t heard any of this shit in a long time. But when I first got into the scene I was scared all the time – I was scared about all the gossip about me simply for being a woman in punk rock.
In fact, I’ve actually heard someone make a sexual joke about me in person, but at the time I couldn’t do anything because he was much older than me and I was scared of standing up to someone. But I am to happy say that if that shit happened again now, I’d fucking kick him with zero hesitation.
Of course, it’s much better now than before, but I think there are still things that need to evolve and change. And that includes myself as well – we’re all on a journey and I feel there’s so much for myself to still learn. There are a lot of really cool and respectable women in the current punk scene. I learn a lot from them and there are so many things I admire about them.
A few months ago, I had an opportunity to participate in recording gang vocals for Billy Carter’s album. All the female musicians who recorded together that day, including Billy Carter, were so fuckin’ awesome – not to mention very admired musicians, so I was very nervous but very happy that day.
And suddenly this idea came into my mind that it would be so cool if we have a chance to record a song with various female musicians.
That is so cool and I look forward to hearing that song! I think building self-confidence is another beautiful part about the world of punk rock. People who are typically shy or soft spoken in school or their workplace, typically learn how important it is to stand up for yourself and fight for what you believe through hardcore/punk.
That is absolutely true. I was really shy and introverted when I was a teenager. I had trouble fitting in, and I didn’t know how to deal with even a small arguement with other people, I just kept avoiding it. So eventually I dropped out of high school…lol. Anyway, once I got into this scene I’ve seen a lot of very positive changes in myself. And as you said, I know how to stand up for myself now.
I had trouble fitting in, and I didn’t know how to deal with even a small arguement with other people, I just kept avoiding it.
That’s amazing…since your two bands are SOOOO different you would be a good person to discuss the difference between punk rock and hardcore. How do you think both your bands differ? Musically, lyrically, attitude, etc.
I think the biggest difference between these two bands for me is my state of mind while playing. When i’m singing for Talkbats, I try to be as happy as possible. On the other hand, I get overwhelmed with rage. A type of rage that I didn’t even have until I started playing with Polluter.
There is also a difference between Talkbats and Polluter’s songwriting process. For Talkbats, I write a vocal melody first and then we turn it into a song together with the other members. Talkbats lyrics were mainly done by Nagi, our former keytarist.
Polluter uses a different strategy. The other members write the music during our practice sessions, and I record the song on my phone. Then at home I start piecing lyrics together.
That’s really cool that you have these two vehicles to express yourself – one that’s a happier outlet, and one that’s angy as fuck. hahaha! So as we wrap up this interview, what is something you’d like to say to people getting into punk rock or hardcore?
Poeple of this scene may seem tough and weird on the outside, but actually they are the most soft-hearted, fragile friends. When I’m having a hard time, or experiencing something I don’t understand, this scene has been a place for me where I can share such feelings, be understood and get emotional support. As I’ve experienced a lot of possitive changes about myself in this scene, I hope the same thing happens to you.
And come see a Talkbats and/or Polluter show! I hope this pandemic ends soon so we can go on tour!
Oh, if anyone is interested in playing drums for Talkbats please let me know!
And thank you so much Riz!! For this interview!!